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Saturday, April 02, 2011

All the Camelots I've known

I saw in the news that there's a new tv series - Camelot - about the King Arthur legend. Most (all?) the actors are from the UK, I think, and I only recognized one - Joseph Fiennes as Merlin.

I've been intrigued by Camelot since reading The Once and Future King and I've seen a number of movies about the Arthur legend (you can see a complete list of all the films/tv series about him here). Most were a bit disappointing :) but still I thought I'd mention them ....

The oldest one I've seen was the 1967 Camelot, which I picked up from the library and posted about in 2008 here.. It starred Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere, Franco Nero as Lancelot, and David Hemmings as Mordred, and was directed by Joashua Logan. Sadly, Merlin was not really in the film except as a remembered flash-back. Here's Harris as Arthur ...

There was the 1981 Excalibur, starred Nigel Terry as Arthur, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Liam Neeson as Gawain, Nicol Williamson as Merlin and a relatively unknown Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance. (and Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon). I know I saw this but don't really remember much of it. There are two versions - one PG, the other R.

Then there was the 1995 First Knight which I caught on tv. It starred Sean Connery as King Arthur, Richard Gere as Lancelot, and Julia Ormond as Guinevere. Didn't like it much.

Also on tv, the 1998 miniseries Merlin It starred Sam Neill as Merlin, Miranda Richardson as Queen Mab and also the Lady of the Lake, Isabella Rossellini as Merlin's girlfriend/nemesis Nimue, Martin Short played a gnome :), Rutger Hauer played Vortigern, and Helena Bonham Carter was Morgan le Fay. I actually kind of liked this one, except that Sam Neill seems so un-Merlini-ish. I especially liked the ending.

The last movie I've seen on the subject was the 2004 King Arthur. This one was actually pretty interesting, at least in its choice of actors and storyline. I posted about it in 2008. Here's a bit from that post, King Arthur, student of Pelagius :) ......

- Clive Owen as King Arthur

Last night's rental movie was the 2004 film King Arthur. It had an unusual cast ... Clive Owen as Arthur, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, Stellan Skarsgård as Cerdic the Saxon, Mads Mikkelsen as Tristan, and Ivano Marescotti as St. Germanus of Auxerre, among others.

[The movie's] producers said it was based on new archaeological findings and was more historically accurate.

I don't know about that, but the storyline did differ in many ways, and it has some interesting twists .... Merlin, for instance, is not Arthur's wizard tutor, but the leader of the Pictish tribes who were being pushed to the north and west, called "Woads" in the film (because they used woad to dye their skin, I'd guess), and Guinevere, Merlin's daughter, is pretty good with a bow and arrow, I suppose a take on Boudica. Galahad isn't Lancelot's son - in fact, all the knights of the round table are in this movie said to be Sarmatians who are serving 15 years indentured servitude to Rome in Britain.

- Tristan and his hawk

One kind of interesting part is that they show Arthur, a Roman soldier of British/Roman ancestory, as a student of Pelagius and his doctrine of free will ( St. Germanus, appearing in the movie, was one of his real life detractors). Here's a little of what Wikipedia has to say about him ...

Pelagius (ca. 354 – ca. 420/440) was an ascetic monk and reformer who denied the doctrine of original sin, later developed by Augustine of Hippo, inherited from Adam and was declared a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church. His interpretation of a doctrine of free will became known as Pelagianism. He was well educated, fluent in both Greek and Latin, and learned in theology. He spent time as an ascetic, focusing on practical asceticism, which his teachings clearly reflect. He was not, however, a cleric. He was certainly well known in Rome, both for the harsh asceticism of his public life as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech. His reputation in Rome earned him praise early in his career even from such pillars of the Church as Augustine, who referred to him as a "saintly man." However, he was later accused of lying about his own teachings in order to avoid public condemnation. Most of his later life was spent defending himself against other theologians and the Catholic Church ..... After being banished from Rome, Pelagius headed east. He probably died in Palestine around 420, as reported by some. Others mention him living as many as twenty years later. The cause of his death is unknown, but it has been suggested that he was killed by his enemies in the Catholic Church.

Though the movie had its downsides - a hinky dialogue, a misrepresentation of Pelagianism, a bizarre mix of weapons and armour, showing all the Christians as rather venal and the Saxons as unredeemably evil with Cedric such a sociopath, he made my skin crawl - still it was entertaining ... the Picts were sort of freedom fighters that we came to embrace, there was a pretty nice scene with a fight on a frozen lake, the Battle of Mons Badonicus was not too bad, and the scenery, shot in Ireland, was beautiful.

- Cynric and his dad Cerdic with their Saxon horde.


Blogger Jeff said...

It's funny how the Camelot films never seem to age as well as the story itself. :)

I like Clive Owen, but I really disliked the 2004 King Arthur film. I think I even shouted at the screen from my theater seat once, but Stellan Skarsgård as the depressed and quirky beard-stroking Cerdic nearly redeemed it single-handedly.

"Finally, a man worth killing..."

8:38 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, the 2004 story was really far-fetched :) but I liked Stellan Skarsgård too.

1:33 PM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

Personally I think "Excalibur" came closest to expressing a true understanding of the myth. But I like the songs in "Camelot."

2:42 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Somehow, you've skipped the greatest King Arthur film ever...

I'd like to see Excalibur again. What a great cast.

But it's interesting, isn't it, that there are so many film versions of the Arturian tales, yet none of them seem to have really captured it that well. (With the exception of the film you missed.)

6:46 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi MP,

Thanks for commenting!

I'll have to rent Excaliber and give it another try.

That song Lancelot sings - If Ever I Should Leave You - made me cry :)

12:59 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Oh yeah, the knights who say NI :).

There was even a version of the Arthur legend on Stargate - their Merlin was really an ascended Ancient.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

British history is too complicated. In King Arthur, the Saxons are the bad guys. In Robin Hood, the Saxons are the good guys... Too often, virtue gets bestowed on the victors.

3:15 PM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

This thing with the Saxons being the bad guys in King Arthur is just Welsh revisionism. They've got it into their heads recently that King Arthur and Merlin were Celtic. Utter rubbish, of course. You've all read the books and seen the films. Does anybody speak welsh in them? No, of course not. They speak perfect BBC English.

For the record, Arthur came from somewhere in Lancashire and Merlin from the Scottish borders. The only foreigners were Lancelot and Percival but they both passed their citizen test very quickly and behaved more English than the native knights.

3:25 PM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

Oh, and don't believe a word the French say about King Arthur. They are a nation of liars and still ticking about Agincourt.

3:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I think the Saxons were only the good guys in Robin Hood (and Ivenhoe) because that's us looking back. In that day, the Saxons were considered rubbish, the French good, and those were the Saxons that had been citizens for hundreds of years :)

4:25 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


"Welsh revisionism" - hee

Thanks for giving us the benefit of your home-turf expertise on these British matters :)

4:29 PM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

Anytime, Crystal. Remind me to tell you all about Jesus' trip to England with his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea, sometime. That's when he learnt to speak English, you know.

4:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I've always wondered why Jesus of Nazareth had an English accent! :)

Love that song. And did those feet in ancient time ....

5:15 PM  

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